Unstable Behavior in Children Linked to Food

by Tamara Runzel

Is your child bouncing off the walls? Does he have trouble concentrating in school or staying on task? You might think it’s just his personality, but it’s worth considering his diet. A number of studies show some correlation between diet and behavior. The key to trying to improve your child’s behavior is to eliminate as many additives from his diet as possible.


Dr. Ben Feingold was the first medical professional to propose a link between foods and behavior in children in the 1970s. After a number of studies, he concluded that certain additives contributed to hyperactivity. His findings were rejected after other studies took place that found no link. In 2008, food regulators in the United Kingdom banned certain additives after a 2007 study showed a link between certain artificial colors and children’s behavior. After this study, the Food and Drug Administration met in 2011 to review a possible link between additives and children’s behavior. As of 2012, the FDA had taken no action on banning additives.


The Feingold Association discusses a number of behaviors that additives seem to affect. These behaviors include hyperactivity, such as the inability to sit still or excessive wiggling; impulsive actions, such as poor self-control or inappropriate noises; compulsive actions, such as aggression, scratching or chewing on clothing or other objects; and emotional concerns such as irritability, nervousness and mood swings. According to Australian Certified Organic Magazine, additives might cause quiet children to become forgetful or lethargic and have mood swings or panic attacks, restless children to become irritable and fidgety and have frequent night wakings and defiant children to become argumentative, throw tantrums and disobey rules on purpose.

Additives to Avoid

The additives researchers recommend avoiding are artificial colors, chemical preservatives, naturally occurring salicylates, amines and glutamates. Artificial colors include anything that starts with the letters “FD&C” such as "FD&C Blue #1." Chemical preservatives include sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate and BHA. Salicyclates are natural pesticides produced by plants and occur in a number of common fruits, such as citrus, strawberries and kiwi. Amines are found in high amounts in cheese and chocolate. Glutamates are found in foods that might be identified as savory, such as soy sauce and certain types of cheese.

Eliminating Additives

Changing your child's diet to eliminate additives that might contribute to unstable behavior requires some work when it comes to shopping. You can start by reading the labels on the groceries you buy to check for any of the additives that might be linked to unstable behavior. Choose products that are labeled “preservative free” and not just “no added preservatives.” Shop for more fresh produce and whole grain foods rather than packaged and processed foods. Bake cakes, muffins and other goodies from scratch rather than from a box mix. Try to choose less colorful cereals, which will have less artificial coloring.

About the Author

Tamara Runzel has been writing military, parenting, family and relationship articles since 2008. Runzel started in television news, followed by education before deciding to be a stay at home mom. Her articles have appeared in military publications as well as numerous online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from University of the Pacific.

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